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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sunday Call for Comments II

I'd love to hear from anybody who has used the LightZone software (top left on this page) and actually knows something about image manipulation programs other than Photoshop.

I've been fooling with it a lot, and I'm fascinated with it, but we all have to face our weaknesses. I have to admit that I'm really just not competent to review software. In school, I was great at geometry and lousy at algebra; great at biology and lousy at chemistry; and I'm a passing fair to very good hand at many mechanical crafts from carpentry to bookbinding. I have an aptitude for the darkroom. But I turn into something very close to a hack when sitting at a computer. I've gotten pretty good at Photoshop, mind you, but only in a Larry The Cable Guy ("Git 'er done!") sort of way. I'm nowhere near good enough at it that I'd presume to write about it. Well, not often, anyway.

I admit that the "ZoneFinder" feature in LightZone is totally cool—I doubt any traditional Zone System photographer would disagree—but what I really love is ZoneMapper. It's addictive to play with in RGB mode, and again and again I find myself completely surprised by how much information is in the file and just how different the many possible interpretations are (and how quickly you can get there). I suspect its major failing is that the inherent low dynamic range of digital files excludes the zone system equivalent of minus development—you can contract the range, but you can't expand it (no fault of the software, just what it's working with). And although LightZone is a RAW converter (how good? See above), I also suspect that LightZone would be ideal for people who choose to work with JPEGs, as the "stacks" are a much easier and more natural version of Layers. (Using LightZone means never having to irretrievably screw up a JPEG again.)

There's a free 30-day trial, of course, so anybody can mess around with it for free. If you've tried it and you're halfway competent to say, what do you think? I'd love to hear.

Posted by: MIKE JOHNSTON

11 Comments:

Blogger J said...

yes please with the reviews on lightzone.

I'm intrigued but am shy on spending and want to save my 30 days for a particularly good shoot.

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like it very much and think it's got lots of potential, but a couple of aspects prevented me from buying it.

One is that it strips IPTC metadata out of its output files - so all the time I put into cataloguing has to be repeated.

A second is also workflow-related but is more specific to my DNG workflow. The spec allows people to write information to a DNG file's XMP metadata. So I'd expect a new product to take advantage of this and store its processing instructions in the DNG file, not in separate LZW files or in TIF derivatives (which is what the cheaper RT version does). So I'm into managing even more files in even more locations. In case there is any technical reason for being unable to write into DNG, I've tried to put LZ in direct contact with the right DNG people at Adobe. I hope they'll use my contacts.

I missed being able to copy a treatment from one raw file to another, the way in Adobe Camera Raw I can copy the settings from one image to many. This is supposed to be coming soon but its absence meant I couldn't see myself using the product with dozens, let alone hundreds of images.

Moving away from workflow and into the Editor, the ToneMapper is great, so much more intuitive that Photoshop's Curves for instance. Maybe I wanted it to be bigger or let me zoom in on two or three tones which I was fine tuning. The ZoneMapper works very well once you get used to it, essentially being like vector masks on Photoshop layers, though I found the invert check box slightly obscure -it also needed to be bigger. A gradient tool is missing, but again is coming, so you end up zooming a long out and (mis)using the ZoneMapper.

I'm particularly into my b&w (and have a D200, Mike) and again liked the way it's handled here with a channel mixer. I regularly convert to b&w using 2 or 3 masked adjustment layers, and LZ passes me selective conversion requirement. In highly saturated blue skies I found its output a little "bitty" compared with Photoshop/ACR, with transitions not as smooth, but I wondered if I was missing something in the program.

I also had a problem with print sizing on an Epson 2100. I had to keep guessing at the output percentage since with a 240 dpi file, the print dialog shows 72dpi, 6.27" x 9.39", and an A4 print comes out at about 4". But this was something they were working on and may now have fixed. I also wanted to print a border.

Overall a very likeable program let down by some workflow deficiencies (especially the stripping of metadata). I wish it luck - few trials last 24 hours on my computer and I was disappointed when I hit the end of this trial (and was glad to get another 30 days with RT).

John
-------------------------
John Beardsworth
http://www.beardsworth.co.uk

2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

I have played around with both LightZone Classic and RT versions quite a bit. To put my comments into some perspective, I've used Photoshop for about 6 years and consider myself an intermediate user of this software. I'm also a software developer so I tend to be fairly harsh and demanding when it comes to the interface, options available to the end user, and overall performance.

All that said, in brief I've found the following with regard to LZ:

1. The interface is very straightforward and easy to use. The tool stack is a nice implementation of this concept.

2. I LOVE the ZoneMapper and ZoneFinder; though, 16 steps IMO is somewhat confusing ala the Zone System of 10 steps. However, it's very easy to simply slide your cursor up or down the grayscale ramp watching the ZoneFinder.

3. I find the regions concept very easy to use and, to my mind, resulting adjustments are quicker and easier to make then using curves in Photoshop. But, you're limited to only 3 different methods to select an area, and I find the Bezier type selection tools kind of hard to use; could be I just don't really understand how to use these tools effectively. Here, again, I like my software more intuitive! Also, selecting multi-areas to be effected by a single ZoneMapper is kind of a pain.

4. I don't like the Clone tool. It's cumbersome to use, the cloned area doesn't blend in well (ala PS's Healing brush), and the exact area of the source point doesn't seem to be very well defined.

5. The Hue/Saturation tool works globally, only. I would like to be able to manipulate individual color channels.

6. There is no current support for precisely changing HSL values of any given color in your image--ala Picto's EditLab Pro or DLC's Color Mechanic.

7. The Sharpen tool seems to work nicely in that haloing is generally not an issue, but... again, it works primarily globally.

8. But, and this is a big BUT, performance is a real issue for me. I understand from a reliable source (no names) that LZ can address only 1.2MB of memory--I was told it's a "Sun thing." Not sure exactly what that means, but I know poor performance when I see it! LZ is relatively robust when working on smaller image files--say 35 - 60 MB--but, try to edit a 200MB scan! Screen redraws freeze, re-processing is slow (ie, when you check/uncheck a tool for before/after), and rendering the file during a final save is...well...suffice it to say that it took a full 4 - 5 minutes to save a 200MB base image file!

For me, personally, I won't be buying it. It's a real shame, too, because IMO there is a LOT of potential there and aspects of the software that I really like.

Also, there is some info that I don't care to share publicly.

Hope my comments help anyone looking at this software.

9:46 AM  
Blogger Marco said...

re: anonymous performance
I think part of it LZ is developed in java. Which would make the "Sun thing" comment sensible.

I too played with it, and the only big minor thing is the performance. I like the RT concept: "plug" it into your normal workflow. I use Bibble for RAW, and if there's a thing I can't do with that, I used to fire up PS, but I find LZ-RT to be more lightweight, especially on an intel mac (Rosetta is not very speedy, even compared to the relative slowness of LZ). However, the IPTC stripping, mentioned above is a small handicap.

I wonder if the ZoneMapper/Finder combination could be licensed for other developers. It's pretty cool and very useful, especially for photographers who are relative new to the digital era. The "Zone System" (although not identical) approach is combining classic with new technology.

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

One other very important "gotcha" that I forgot to mention in my prior post--printing. If your preference for printing is via application managed colors and paper profiles (either custom or vendor provided), then IMO you'll be very disappointed with the prints emerging from LightZone. When compared to output from Photoshop or third-party RIP (ImagePrint), the output from LZ looks anemic. Don't know what' going in internally, but my guess is that Black Point Compensation is not being properly utilized, if at all. Therefore, to get the best prints, you'll have to buy yet another piece of software such as Qimage or one of the popular RIPs.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I bought, and have been using, LZ, both Classic & RT, since the end of March. I felt that it was more intuitive than PS curves and easier to control, fine tune, and more fun. I really like being able to apply LZ to all file formats, i.e., NEFs, JPGs, and TIFs, so I can use it at any point in my image editing.

LZ also separates out similar colors and expands the image tones, both in greys (rgb and grayscale) and full color, very nicely. The "region" tools allows me to do that work on selected areas. I find it easier to isolate main subjects from their backgrounds. I can stack HSL(filter) and Channel Mixer(film) layers to convert my final corrected image into B&W without going back into PS, and get similar results. The global response is a plus, here. I have been very pleased with my results. Of course, I'd like to see
"soft proofing" added, but the program is new and growing.

I just tried working on a 400+ meg scan and it was slow to load and repaint zooms, but so is PS on a file that size, so that's not a show stopper for me. Zone mapping and HSL/Channel Mixing was the same speed as usual. Typically, I work on D200 files.

I know that the printing problems on the Epson 2100-2200 printers are a Java breakdown that they promised to fix. Setting your printing parameters in "Control Panel" will work around that problem. I am a "fine art" guy, and process one image at a time, so many of the work flow problems previously discussed don't bother me. We're also only in version one, and, on this particular product, I decided it had enough potential to buy it. (But then, I bought John's book on Digital B&W Photography:) - it's a good
read.) I just hope that they can stay with it and perfect it.

Anonymous, above said "Also, there is some info that I don't care to share publicly." I find this statement counterproductive to this conversation. Is it positive or negative info? Should potential buyers stay away? Are they in danger of being taken? Or did the poster merely find out that the direction of LZ development will not address his particular requirements? You don't know whether to duck or get in line.

Al Benas

6:08 PM  
Blogger Uwe Steinmueller said...

Our review:

http://www.outbackphoto.com/
artofraw/raw_26/essay.html

Uwe

(combine both parts of the link)

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Te ZoneMapper would be a grat plugin

7:56 PM  
Blogger Ant said...

Another issue for me was not being able to 'spot' for dust, unless I missed something very basic, the clone tool is too unweildy to clone out sensor dust.

I do like the Tone Mapper, although as a long term user of PS, it's sorta redundent, almost like Photo Retouch Pro, some very nice features but not a proper competitor to PS.

Maybe in later versions it might work out, however will enough money be put into development if not enough people buy it? Chicken-Egg!

Cheers

Ant

5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, because of your post, I d/l'ed LightZone a few days ago. My system is fairly outdated now (dual 866 Mhz PIII running W2K, 1.5 GB RAM) and the speed issue is definitely real. Desipte this, I will seriously considering paying the $99 or $150 to get either the RT or the full program.

I shoot both with my Epson R-D1 for color, and B&W film with the Leicas. I have been scanning film for a number of years. First with E-6s and now traditional B&W (Tri-X, HP5+, etc.) I have been printing color on an Epson 1280 for a few years and now printing B&W on it using the BO and QuadtoneRIP with the UT2 inkset. I have been using Photoshop since PS5, currently holding at PS8/CS.

Point is, I love this program for both B&W and color work, regardless the origin of the source files (scanned or digital). The Zone Mapper is such a simple concept that you wonder a) do you really want to pay $100+ just to get that, especially since I already am experience with and own Photoshop, and b) why didn't other people think of it before? The Zone Mapper can be simulated somewhat in Photoshop Curves by just setting 16 control points but it will be a lot more difficult to use and not quite doing the job.

Nevertheless, the program is not without flaws. Slowness is one of them. Couple people mentioned lack of Black Point compensation in printing. Lack of other profile except for sRGB in JPG export is another. There are others as well.

I have communicated with you a few times over the year. If you want to contact me, use richard
at
imagecraft dot com

Thanks

10:05 AM  
Blogger fricc said...

I thought tat it might be useful to give some clarifications about the number of zones used in LightZone.

We choose to present eight zones instead of the classic ten of the Zone System in LightZone because that largely covers the dynamic range of any digital image from modern DSLRs. Also computer displays have pretty much the same dynamic range, it would be hard to show more than eight zones on any commercial display.

To improve flexibility we have split the eight zones in two half zones, hence you have sixteen segments in the ZoneMapper. If you need even more resolution you can always stack two (or more) ZoneMappers one after the other.

Please check my own blog for more background info about LightZone.

Regards,

- Fabio

---

Fabio Riccardi
CTO, Light Crafts, Inc.

10:56 PM  

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